President again pledges 13 Plus to India

Swaraj makes claim at news conference but presidential spokesman refuses comment
LSSP, CP call for maximum implementation of LLRC recommendations
By Anthony David and Nadia Fazlulhaq

President Mahinda Rajapaksa will enforce provisions of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and “go beyond it,” India’s Opposition Leader Sushma Swaraj said yesterday.

She told a packed news conference the re-assurance was given when the Indian parliamentary delegation met the President at “Temple Trees” earlier yesterday. However, presidential spokesperson Bandula Jayasekera, who was present at the news conference, declined to comment on Ms. Swaraj’s statement.

A reported previous assurance on the same issue, made by the President to Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna in January, however, ran into controversy and contradictions.

Mr. Krishna had told a news conference in Colombo on January 17 after a breakfast meeting with the President that Mr. Rajapaksa had assured him he would implement the “13th Amendment plus,” meaning further concessions. However, during a meeting with national newspaper editors on January 30, President Rajapaksa disputed the claim and declared “no assurance” was given. He said he had only “discussed the 13th Amendment plus.”

Ms. Swaraj spoke at the news conference at Colombo’s Taj Samudra after a week-long visit to Sri Lanka by a 12-member Indian parliamentary delegation. Though all members of the delegation were present, a noteworthy feature was the delegation members directing all media queries to their leader.When a journalist pointed out that government ministers had denied reported assurances given by President Rajapaksa to Indian External Affairs Minister Krishna in January, the Indian Opposition Leader replied, there is no question of ministers saying and denying anything. The President himself said he would concede both the 13th Amendment and the plus.”

Before taking questions Ms. Swaraj read out a three-page statement. It said it is the delegation’s “sincere hope” that the government of Sri Lanka would reach a “genuine political reconciliation” based on ‘meaningful devolution of powers.’ She added, “We have been assured in the past that this will be done within the framework of the ‘Thirteenth Amendment – Plus’.”

She called upon the government and the Tamil National Alliance to resume their dialogue. Meanwhile in a related development, two of the coalition parties of the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) yesterday called for the ‘maximum’ implementation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations with a time frame for a political solution to the ethnic issue.
The move came after the party leaders of the UPFA were asked to submit proposals on implementing the LLRC recommendations.

At the party leaders’ meeting held at Temple Trees, a summary of the LLRC recommendations that included several sections, namely the political solution/national policy, human rights and security, rehabilitation and resettlement and the last stages of the conflict was distributed to them by External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris. They were told to submit their suggestions and proposals at the next party leaders meeting.

Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) leader and Scientific Affairs Minister Tissa Vitharana told the Sunday Times the party saw the LLRC report as a comprehensive one that dealt with all issues that rose during the end of the conflict and after, while addressing causative factors.

“The party’s political bureau met on Friday and decided that the recommendations should be used to achieve reconciliation and bring about a solution to the national question. We call upon the Government to implement them to the maximum possible extent as soon as possible,” he said.

Prof. Vitharana said some recommendations such as the rehabilitation of former LTTE cadres had already been implemented while some including the resettlement of displaced people were being implemented.

“But the most important factor is the setting up of a select committee for a political solution. This has to be progressively implemented and is the responsibility of the President and the Government,” he said.
Prof Vitharana said it was important to draw up a timeframe and the objective should be to win the confidence of the Tamils and the Muslims of the country and only through such a process that the country could reach national reconciliation.

Communist Party leader and Human Resources Minister D.E.W Gunasekera said the party supported the full implementation of the LLRC recommendations without any reservations. “We will be identifying the non-controversial areas such as resettlement and suggest swift implementation,” he said. He said a political solution could be achieved by appointing a parliamentary select committee representing all parties.

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